Not every movie gets the privilege of releasing a soundtrack album, especially in this age of readily downloadable individual tracks. Similarly, not all movie scores are put onto the market for mass consumption, particularly scores from light romantic comedies. So it’s especially impressive that Lakeshore Records has chosen to not only release a full soundtrack but also a full (well… 26 minutes at least) score album of Academy Award nominated composer John Debney’s music for the Natalie Portman/Ashton Kutcher match-up No Strings Attached. However, considering that all the music on both albums only totals around 75 minutes, the obvious question is why not just compile it all into one big No Strings Attached album encompassing both score and soundtrack? Not being in the boardroom of either Paramount Pictures or Lakeshore Records when decisions are made, I obviously don’t have any answers, but I’d wager a guess that they expect the two albums to appeal to different crowds: moviegoers that love the film’s music are more likely to go for the soundtrack, while fans of Debney may buy the score without ever seeing the film. The standard moviegoer may never consider the score music, while those that particularly enjoy scores have no use for soundtracks. But, I would argue that there is some middle ground, especially when the music seems to mix so nicely. There are many out there who enjoy both scores and soundtracks, and enjoy mixing the two to get a general vibe from a particularly memorable film. For those people, this is the perfect opportunity to provide a score/soundtrack mix. Debney’s lightly romantic score would flow nicely in between tracks from D’Angelo and Color Me Badd, especially considering that all but two of the score tracks are around one minute long. What’s wrong with an instrumental interlude now and again? But none of this is intended as a criticism of either album – both work well alone; they just might have worked better together… and isn’t that the ultimate point of No Strings Attached, after all?
First off, let’s talk about this soundtrack album, coordinated by Jason Richmond. It’s a nice compilation, easily alternating between achingly melodramatic (Leona Lewis’ “Bleeding Love” and Daniel Ahearn’s “I Will Let You Go”) with fluffy-yet-memorable levity (Lanchen’s brief “What Good is a Boy?” and Hugo’s album-stealer “99 Problems”). Rather than going with easily recognizable names (and driving up the cost of putting out the album, natch), Richmond has included the lesser-known names here (aside from the Elvis remix and the Plain White T’s album-closer). It’s a good strategy and makes for a compelling collection of music for an upbeat rainy day, though I’ve heard a few complaints about tracks that were in the movie not being included (for the record, anyone who’s interested in a soundtrack should look at which songs made the cut before purchasing it). Nothing feels out of place here, even though the album jumps from R&B (Color Me Badd, D’Angelo) to indie rock (Little Red, Bishop Allen). Most of the music is from the last few years (with the obvious exceptions of Color Me Badd and D’Angelo) and this gives the album a contemporary feel that serves it well. It’s not a blow-me-out-of-the-water collection of music, but it’s definitely an easy listen and gives off a nice vibe for a romantic comedy soundtrack. Props to Richmond for his decisions – 13 tracks is a good amount for an album and nothing feels superfluous.
Next up is Debney’s score. For those that don’t know, John Debney is a busy man. For the last few decades he has been composing up a storm. Here is just a taste of his canon: Sin City, Iron Man 2, Passion of the Christ (for which he earned an Oscar nod), Elf, Bruce Almighty, Hocus Pocus, and Liar, Liar. In short, this guy has not only range, but longevity – two very important qualities in the business of Hollywood composition. (This may be another reason why there are two albums out and not just a single compilation – it probably doesn’t hurt that Debney also served as producer on this album. Anyway, on to the music: from the opening notes of “Golf Date” it’s clear that Debney has a keen grasp of the lightly comedic role his music will be playing in this movie. The score bounces along gracefully and playfully in this opening track, letting us know immediately that there are some emotions involved here, but that, ultimately, we’re along for a playful ride. And this theme holds true for the rest of the album; even when Debney gets a little serious (as he does in the more restrained and slightly pensive tracks “You Wanna Do This?” and “Getting Married”), it’s clear that we’ll be back into happyland before too long. And, ultimately, that’s what makes this little compilation work. We can feel the deeper emotions hiding behind the lighthearted – and lightly strummed – strings in these brief tracks, but they never collapse into melodrama (or even drama). The brief “Emma Loses It” is the closest Debney comes to getting off-track (it could have easily been left out of this album), with 25 seconds of intense guitar, but otherwise the tone that gets set in the opening seconds remains the tone throughout the album. The fact that there’s only about 27 minutes of music on the entire album is a pretty big disappointment, considering both the quality of Debney’s work and the price of a full-length album. The music that is included is definitely good stuff, but there should be more of it to justify a completely separate album.
Music From the Motion Picture: A-
Score From the Motion Picture: B-
Perfect For: Fans of the movie, or anyone who likes a lightly comedic collection of music
Stay Away if: You want a full-length score album
Visit Amazon to purchase the soundtrack or the score from No Strings Attached